Sunday, June 5, 2016

My first week as the Marine Biologist Intern!

Hi, I'm Dylan, the new Marine Biology intern! 
I'm 19 years old from Wales and will be starting a BSc in Marine Biology at Exeter University this September. I've taken a year out of study to learn more about marine ecosystems around the world, and so far I have been lucky enough to dive in the Mediterranean and visit Indonesia where I dived around Bali! I'm going to be based here at Gili Lankanfushi for 1 month before heading off to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia! I will be writing a weekly blog during my stay at Gili, so stay tuned to find out what I'm getting up to! 


Credit: Hannah Govan
Coral Bleaching is evident on most reefs
During my first week I've had the opportunity to work on a range of interesting and meaningful projects, as I have arrived during an interesting period for the reefs around Gili Lankanfushi! The Resident Biologists have been busy with the ongoing El Nino induced coral bleaching event; the land reclamation that is happening on Himmafushi (a nearby local island), Crown of Thorns Starfish (CoTS) removal, and the arrival of the Manta rays!

The El Nino event is now coming to an end with temperatures beginning to come down after an extended period of warming. However, the effects of the warming is clear to see on both the reefs and the Coral Lines Project, which are showing wide scale bleaching and some mortality. One of my jobs is to log temperature data in the Divestat database, which can give us clues to temperature's effect on mega fauna sightings. It is good to see a recent decrease during dives at different sites from around 30°C to 29°C. We are waiting for temperatures to return to a more normal level before moving some of the Coral Lines out onto the reef, which I hope to be a part of!


We chose the valuable slow growing species to relocate
Meanwhile, on a nearby local island, an area of 22 hectares is being reclaimed to build houses for the locals. The region in which the land reclamation is happening is home to an established coral reef system which will unfortunately be lost in the reclamation process. In an attempt to preserve some of the older coral that is not showing signs of bleaching we have been transporting bleach resistant colonies by hand to the Coral Lines Project site with the aim of relocating them onto our house reef. Hard work but definitely worth while! It seems I have become a pro with a chisel!


I saw Mantas in Bali, but this is something else!!
Finally, there has been the arrival of the Manta rays! While returning from a snorkeling trip to Bandos reef we stopped at Sunlight Thila, which is a known Manta ray cleaning station. There were 6 Mantas all making use of the cleaning station! Unfortunately we were unable to take any ID photographs of Manta bellies as we were only in snorkeling gear and the Mantas were down at 15 meters! My first Manta survey dive had us circled by 6 different individual rays, and today I hope for the same as I head on my second Manta survey dive! The Manta season on the East of the atoll  has definitely kicked off strongly, with the Gili Lankanfushi Manta ray count being 50 at the time of writing - 12 were my sightings ;) 

In summary, I have had a great first week, working on a variety of interesting and exciting things from research based activities such as logging data in the Divestat database and survey diving, conservation based activities with the transport of coral from Himmafushi to Gili as well as the removal of CoTS, and finally just enjoyable things like seeing Mantas. It has been great and I am excited to find out what the coming weeks have in store! 

Best fishes,
Dylan

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